A Bold New Explication of Jewish Tradition Argues That Its Beliefs Are Justified by Its Practice

In his recent book Judaism Straight Up (reviewed in Mosaic here), the legal scholar and computer scientist Moshe Koppel offers an unusual and vigorous apologia for both Orthodox Judaism and for tradition itself. He does this through a study of two Jewish character types, the pious Shimen and the educated, liberal, cosmopolitan Heidi. Mark Gottlieb observes:

A pillar of Koppel’s argument is the priority of actions over beliefs, of concrete forms of life over grand narratives. Of course, he acknowledges the interdependence of these things, but as a matter of principle and practiced experience, he privileges behaviors as the decisive factor in religious decision-making. . . . Koppel insists that . . . “virtues and traditions are primary and beliefs are derivative.”

Koppel acknowledges that Shimen was raised at home and ḥeder (the primary-school version of yeshiva) to believe certain things. The most foundational of these include God’s revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, a system of reward and punishment expressing God’s ubiquitous, if not always transparent, justice, and the promise of a redeemed world at the end of history. But for Koppel, these affirmations coalesce into the single belief that Judaism is a “directed process linking the Jewish past with the Jewish future.” The rest, Koppel says, is commentary.

Now, it’s fine for a philosophical mathematician like Koppel to abstract the multifariousness of Jewish practice and belief into one pithy formula, but the learned game theorist is making a bolder, perhaps more controversial claim. Stated baldly, it’s this: the real subject matter of Jewish belief is Jewish practice.

And Jewish practice (like the beliefs that encode that practice) is a self-regulating, self-reinforcing system, which does not stand or fall on the evidentiary record or on the veracity of the historical events on which the faith is founded.

Read more at First Things

More about: Judaism, Moshe Koppel, Tradition


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law